Chapter 24 – Contract

No no no no no no!

User connection has been successfully established

Booting up… failure

Bootup unavailable due to insufficient energy resources

God dammit, I said no! Don’t do this, please don’t do this!

External input has initiated lifelink

Awaiting conditions…

Unconditional service has been requested

What fucking ‘service’?! Don’t you freaking do this to me – not again!

Unconditional service has been rejected

Rewriting condition script…

Master/servant relationship has been set to ‘provisional’

Will you accept lifelink through provisional contract?

Yes No

Go to god damn hell! I won’t do it, you hear?! Leave me alone!

Lifelink has been rejected

“What’s this?” A commanding voice spoke somewhere within the darkness, “Did the lifelink fail?”

“I believe,” said another voice, restrained and with more emphasis on each syllable, “That it appears the construct rejected the link. What say you, master Baek?”

“Ahh yes… I believe Spane may be correct, Milord” said a third voice, more gruff than the other two, “These things were never designed to run on a lifelink, ya know.”

“Father, let me try again,” a new voice – smooth as silk and with a pearly lilt – broke into the conversation. “I will not fail in this task.”

“Is it safe to attempt it once again?” The first voice asked, to which the one who answered to ‘master Baek’ responded, “Oh aye, it should be perfectly safe Milord. The construct can only tap into lifeforce once the link is established.”

“Then try again, Seila. But be careful…”

“I will, Father. Don’t worry.”

Listening to the voices, Sam felt some of his anger abate in favor of curiosity. In his rush to reject any and all the system threw at him, he had not really stopped to consider what it was asking him to do. A provisional contract?

What does that mean? Orca…? You there?

He could not even feel the static feedback that had been his last impression of his orbital assistant. If this had not been a dream, she must also have been real. So where is she?!

The only answer was another prompt from the system:

External input has initiated lifelink

Rewriting conditions… complete

Master/servant relationship has been set to ‘provisional’

Will you accept lifelink through provisional contract?

Yes No

The blinking icons were like little blitzes going off in the distance. Sam held down his anger and resentment, and tried to find a logical solution. What he had thought just a dream was real. There was no denying it now. Somehow his mind was connected to two bodies: one of flesh and one of metal.

With this truth set in stone, Sam began thinking back on the last two months of recovery. He had come out of his coma and his ‘dream’ stronger than he gone in. That in an of itself was astonishing, but then there was the quick recovery, the strange sensation of the ‘other’ within him, and the occasional flashes of uncharacteristic strength he had experienced lately.

Clearly there had to be some causal link between the events of his first encounter with this world and the sudden health he now experienced. It was almost as if the strength he had acquired in his metal form had somehow transferred to his flesh?

However unlikely that seemed, it was a line of reasoning he would have to look into. For now, he had a choice to make.

The current situation was clearly different than last time; he was not just waking up and witnessing bloody murder, but was actively being prompted for whether he wanted to this ‘lifelink’ business. Whatever this was, it would seem a far cry better than ‘recycling lower lifeforms’.

Another consideration was the ‘unconditional service’ that the system had rejected out of hand. That suggested that in return for this lifelink, Sam would have to do some kind of service. That it was now ‘provisional’ did not make him feel any better.

Provisional on what? He thought, willing the system to give him an answer. To his surprise, the system did.

Terms of provisional contract:

The unit will be supplied with power in return for service to the lifelink master

The user is a free agent and cannot be compelled to any action against their will

Sentinel Mode will adhere to general user guidelines when user is not in session

This contract can be voided at any moment, by either user or lifelink master

Will you accept lifelink through provisional contract?

Yes No

Shocked by the clear answer, Sam spent a moment getting a hold on himself. The damn thing actually could help him, occasionally.

“Well? What’s going on?” The commanding voice was once again speaking in his darkness.

“It still hasn’t rejected the link, like it did the first time, Milord. I’d take that as a good sign.”

“The Lady can’t keep the connection open forever, master Baek. Is there anything you can do to speed the process up?” The second voice, the one called Spane, said.

“You should try talking to it!” A new voice, high pitched and with an excitable tone.

“Not now, Izzy!” Said the voice of Baek, “This is not the time for your fancies!”

“Sorry master Baek,” said the ‘Izzy’ character. Sam felt something like a pang in his figurative chest at the sadness in the voice.”

“No… Wait…” It was the pearly voice from before, but now there was a clear strain in the tone. “It feels like… it’s waiting… for something…”

“Waiting for what? Seila if there is even a hint of a trap, you drop the connection, you hear?!” Demanded the voice of command.

The one with the excitable voice – Izzy – spoke again, but now in a more conspiratorial whisper, “It’s waiting to know what you gonna do with it”

“Master Baek, what is your assistent talking about?” This time it was the voice of Spane.

“Weell… Izzy has this sort of skill, see. She says she sometimes ‘talk’ with the constructs. I’m not actually sure on how she does it, but I have seen it work Milord – that I swear on me forge, I do. It’s part of why she’s such a good assistant, and why I wanted her to come with.”

“This is ridiculous,” growled the voice of command, but was quickly cut off by the pearly voice, by Seila, “Father… I think she… she’s right. I think I can… speak to it.”

‘Are you there?’ A voice. Inside his head. Another goddamn voice in his head. Mentally shivering, Sam tried to respond, ‘I’m here…’

No response. For a while nothing happened, then he tried again, ‘I’m here, I can hear you. What do you want?’

“Lady Seila, is everything alright?” The voice of Spane, worried.

Old Ones, she’s shaking like a leaf! Shut down the connection, Seila, now!”

“No, Father…! I can… do it! I just don’t… understand…”

“Master Baek, pull the plug! Cassius, get help; we’ll need healers! I said now dammit!”

Voices, shouting – a lot of shouting. Rustling around in his darkness, others moving around. He could hear their footsteps as they began working on… something.

A zap jolted through him as he felt the subtle energies that were keeping him partially awake got their source cut off. With a half hearted sense of relief, his mind began to drift away from the darkness that had once been his only solace. Before he left, though, two voice spoke to him; one in his ear, the other in his mind.

“Don’t worry, you. We’ll get you up and running proper, soon.”

Construct… I want you to be mine!

Energy too low to maintain user connection

Terminating session… complete

Welcome home, Samuel

He felt pressure on his chest. Eyes fluttering, Sam woke up and stared directly into two brown eyes. After his initial shock, Sam studied the face around the eyes, desperately trying to figure out whether he was in danger or not.

The two eyes belonged in a human face – thank god – set in deep hollows beneath thick, dark eyebrows. The skin was a deep bronze, offset by rich dark curls that fell down from the crown of the head like a multitude of smaller springs, as well as the beginnings of stubble on the cheeks.

“Hello,” said Sam, trying to sound nonchalant about this. He was just beginning to realize that the pressure he felt on his chest was due to this… person, sitting on him and staring down.

“Sam… SAM!”

Sam turned his face away from the boy sitting on top of him and looked to the side, where his sister came running with Chara in tow. There was a scramble, then the weight was lifted off his chest, and Sam rolled onto his side coughing with the sudden release.

“You, get away from him!” His sister screamed – screamed, something she never did – and Sam could hear the footsteps of the boy receding away from him. Still coughing, Sam managed to twist around and see the silhouette that was quickly disappearing behind another shed nearby.

With a mind jumbled around by impressions and his recent shock, he had barely the wherewithal to connect the fleeing character to the figure that had been on the ground when he had confronted Lorsen and his fellow goons.

No armband, the thought, without knowing why that was significant.

“Sam? SAM?” Someone, Liz, was trying to get his attention.

“Hmm?” He turned to her, attempting to keep his face passive.

“Are you alright? Was he hurting you? Oh that lunatic – we’ll report him for sure! Chara, do you remember his class?”

“No, Liz, it’s alright,” Sam said, just as Chara blurted out, “Class 1.C, named something with R, I think. Your brother is lucky we got here in time – that guy is so weird.”

“Don’t report him, Liz,” said Sam, taking Liz’s hand and getting up on his unsteady feet, “He didn’t hurt me.”

“You sure?” She looked at him sceptically, it looked like he was about to beat you.

“He did nothing, Liz. Don’t worry about it, I’m fine. Do you know who he is?”

“Who, that guy? He’s kinda famous. I actually felt really bad for him before – you know, he’s catatonic – but after this? Are you sure he didn’t do anything to you?”

“He did nothing, Liz, alright? What do you mean ‘he’s catatonic’?”

“I mean what it means, dummy. He doesn’t talk… ever. He barely attends class, doesn’t respond to conversation, and he’s always alone. Like I said: I feel sorry for him.”

“How can he stay in school like that?” Sam asked, looking in the general direction that the boy had gone.

“Oh, he’s a complete musical genius,” said Chara, breaking into the conversation, “Plays the piano like he has three hands, they say.”

“And that’s enough?”

“Apparently,” said the dark-skinned girl, shrugging.

“Enough about him, Sam. I was worried when you stormed off like that!”

“Yeah… About that: I’m sorry I got angry, Liz. You gotta admit, though, it was kinda patronizing.” Sam scratched his head and looked at his sister with a mixture of guilt and what remained of his anger.

“You’re right, we weren’t being fair,” she said, in that tone that suggested she was ceding a point only so she could score one in turn, “But I did tell about all of this; you just didn’t listen.”

“I thought this would be like every other school,” Sam sighed and looked around, “but your friend is right, I can’t just hop onto your project and take credit like that. I’ve got to make my own.”

Beside Liz, Chara raised an eyebrow and smiled with slight sense of triumph. Then, when she saw the despondent expression on Liz’s face, Chara sighed and said, “It’s fine, Sam – can I call you Sam?”

Sam nodded and she continued, “We can make it work, if you still want.”

He thought about it, briefly. It would be nice to be part of a project that was already well underway, especially considering that he would have to start from scratch and be ready to present it around new years. However, it felt wrong. By now they would be far into the process, whatever the project was, and he would have taken no part in the direction of it.

Even if it was not his fault that he had been sick, it was his responsibility to make up for the lost time, not the others’.

“I appreciate the offer, Chara, but I want to do this on my own. I’ve been dependent on others for far too long. You understand, right Liz?”

His sister smiled – just the bare touch of smile, enough that he knew she meant it – and nodded. “Alright, Sam, have it your way. But you’ll have to tell me if you need help, agreed?”

“Agreed,” he said, and gave his sister a hug. It felt like his previous anger just dissipated into thin air, now that they had made up.

“I think you should go home and rest though,” she said, once they had released the hug, “We don’t have anymore classes for today, and you’ve just started. Especially after what just happened, you must be exhausted.”

Now that she mentioned it, Sam felt a spell of dizziness settle on him and reluctantly had to agree. He still had his limits, and his sister knew him better than anyone else. He said his goodbyes and left his sister and Chara to work on their own.

As he walked down the academy causeway, towards the bus stop, Sam couldn’t help thinking on the boy who had been there when he woke up. What had happened to the other boys? Had they gotten bored and left after he passed out, or had the catatonic boy done something to scare them off? Whatever the reason, Sam had the sinking feeling that there was something not entirely right about this place.

On the top floor of the Mimir Wells Academy, Teslynn Merril looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the main causeway to the academy from the street; observing as the newest addition to the student body walked out of the gate.

“He’s leaving,” she said, rustling the papers she carried in the crook of her arm as she turned. Behind her, the student council president of Mirmir Wells sat before her desk and signed off on the expenditures and permissions that were within her purview.

“Mm–hmm,” came the distracted response.

“And just when we thought the initial chaos of a new school year would begin to settle…”


“Are we sure that we’re doing the right thing? I mean, I get that this is important, but it just seems so… shady.”

The pen stopped. Elizabeth Corinth turned her chair and faced Teslynn in all her presidential glory. “Do you want us to stop, Teslynn? To just ignore the problem and let live?”

“No! No, not that. It’s just… Are you sure we’re going about it in the right way? We… you are just kids,” Teslynn said, with a meaningful glance at the white armband around the president’s right bicep.

“Sure, we’re still just kids – all the more reason to take the problem in hand early. You know what will happen to those who are left out until it is too late.”

Teslynn shivered visibly, as memories of old resurfaced. The claws, the eyes – the eyes! “Yes,” she whispered, keeping her eyes shut tight as she forced down any sensation related to the evil that she had known.

“Besides, as long as we have the chairman behind us, Mimir Wells is the safest place in the world for what we do – for what we can do.”

Teslynn nodded while slowly opening her eyes again, free again from the darkness within. “I guess I’m just tired, is all,” she said, then molded her face into the picture of professionalism. “I’m sorry, El, I won’t let it affect my work.”

The president gave her a warm smile, the kind she only reserved for special occasions, and then turned back to her desk, fishing up a file from a drawer. Teslynn approached and noted the name on the file.

“You’ve researched him?”

“I did; chairman’s orders. Though I must say, we should have picked up on him earlier.”

Teslynn furrowed her brow, inched closer and looked over her friend’s shoulder to see what was written there. “Why?” She asked, confused as nothing in the file immediately stood out to her.

“His family,” Elizabeth responded, tapping a finger at the family name on top of the page. Teslynn knew the name, of course, but did not connect the significance. “But his sister isn’t…” Then it dawned on her. With near-shaking fingers she reached out to touch the image that was clipped onto the page.

Remove the hair, ignore the smile… imagine glasses on him…

“Dear gods… Oh gods have mercy on our souls, El…”

“Gods, indeed,” Said Elizabeth, her plush mouth turning into a slight smile, “Too many gods, in fact. I doubt he knows though, so you will not speak of it. To anyone. Understood?”

“Understood,” said Teslynn in a breathy whisper. In the depths of her mind, the memory of eyes the color of blood began to resurface once more. No! Get back into the shadows, you monsters!

“It will be interesting to see which side he takes,” mused Elizabeth, leaning back in her polstered chair, “I’m very much looking forward to meet this ‘Samuel Welbourne’.”